COMBINED profits for Singapore-listed companies fell last year, dragged down by sluggish exports and other factors such as the cooling property market.

The 448 companies that had filed results for the 12 months to Dec 31 as of last Saturday notched a total profit of $33.2 billion, 3.8 per cent lower than the $34.51 billion in 2012.

"2013 was a challenging year for many Singapore enterprises as Singapore exports continued to be weak," said Voyage Research chief executive Roger Tan. Non- oil domestic exports slid a worse than feared 6 per cent last year.

Still, the vast majority of the companies - 331 - were profitable, with 117 reporting losses.

A breakdown of figures from the benchmark Straits Times Index (STI) showed many shareholders of these blue chips were rewarded with higher payouts.

The 30-member STI has 23 firms with financial years ending in December. Jardine Matheson Holdings, Jardine Strategic Holdings and Hongkong Land will report their full-year earnings on Thursday. The other 20 paid out dividends over the past two years. (See table)

An analysis of dividend-paying companies showed that 11 recorded higher profits last year than 2012, while nine earned less.

Ten companies raised their per share dividend or distribution per unit compared with 2012, seven reduced dividends and three maintained the same payout level.

The three local banks were the top performers last year, after their bottom lines were supported by strong loan growth and gains in non-interest income.

DBS Group Holdings leapfrogged OCBC Bank and clinched top spot in last year's earnings table, though profits dipped 3.6 per cent to $3.67 billion, on the back of a 6.9 per cent rise in revenue to $9.1 billion.

Earnings at United Overseas Bank, the second most profitable company, climbed 7.3 per cent to $3.01 billion - the first time its profit crossed the $3 billion mark.

OCBC Bank's net profit dived 30.7 per cent to $2.77 billion, owing to an absence of its divestment gains. Earnings for 2012 hit $3.99 billion, helped by a $1.2 billion divestment gain, which came from the sale of its stakes in Fraser and Neave and Asia Pacific Breweries in August that year.

Taking fourth spot on the earnings table was conglomerate Keppel Corp, which reported a 17.5 per cent drop in full-year profits.

Commodity counters in the STI had mixed performances, with Wilmar International reporting a 5.1 per cent rise in earnings to $1.67 billion, while Noble Group's profit plunged 48.3 per cent to $307.8 million.

Mr Tan said property companies are likely to face some headwinds this year. "They were able to recognise their profits in 2013, but the Government's 'bitter medication' to cool the market is beginning to take effect," he said.

Rowsley topped the list of those in the red with a loss of $226.3 million the nine months to Dec 31. It had changed its financial year-end from March 31 to Dec 31. During the period, Rowsley had registered an impairment goodwill loss of $221.2 million.

Mr Kenneth Ng, head of research at CIMB, said more companies had beaten market expectations based on their fourth-quarter earnings for the three months to Dec 31.

"Some of the better performers are the three local banks, those in the plantation sector like Golden Agri-Resources, Olam International and Wilmar, as well as firms in the consumer business market such as Thai Beverage Public Co," he said.

For companies which fell short of market expectations, higher staff costs dragged down their bottom lines. Companies with higher than expected costs included Sats and SMRT, noted Mr Ng.

He said small- and medium-sized enterprises that were largely reliant on the domestic market remained hardest hit by manpower issues amid Singapore's economic restructuring.

"Many listed companies have diversified their businesses and branched out of Singapore, so the impact from labour concerns has been mitigated," said Mr Ng.

The unfolding Ukraine crisis, however, is something the market will be watching out for, said Voyage Research's Mr Tan.

"The Ukraine crisis is a potential bane to the already injured European economy, and any financial crisis or even war may reopen the wound inflected back in 2008," he said.